What’s that you say? A Guide to Interviewing

This chapter provides you with all the necessary information you require to conduct a “good” research interview. This includes steps on how to determine who to interview, ethics questions, how to prepare for interviews and the common problems that happen during any interview process. You will also be given guidance on how to take notes during an interview and how to credibly and ethically use this information in your research project.

1. Understanding the Interview Process

  • An interview as defined here refers to a formal conversation between a researcher and someone who has particular information or experience related to the public issue being studied
  • The purpose of an interview is to find out information and to deepen your understanding of your public issue by engaging in a dialogue about it
  • In this chapter, the type of interviews we will be examining are not semi-structured or structured and do not involve open-ended questions
  • While written documents are very valuable sources of information for any research project, there are often huge gaps in the material that cannot be filled by searching the web or a library for more documents
  • In addition, it is often very easy to be misled by the words in a document that imply one thing but might mean another in practice
  • This is why interviews are so valuable – they add content, depth and color to the story told by the documents
  • That said, you cannot use interviews exclusively for your project or conduct interviews during the beginning stages of your research
  • This is because interviews are only valuable AFTER you have gathered a lot of information on your subject – this will prevent you from asking vague or irrelevant questions and allow you to better understand whose views you want to capture in an interview and what information is truly needed

2. Choosing the Right Kind of Interview

  • There are four kinds of studies that rely heavily on interviews and they are very different from each other: research interviews, large-scale survey research, exploratory studies and ethnographic interviews
  • While this chapter will focus entirely on research interviews, it is useful to understand the major differences between each type of interview for future reference

i. Research Interviews

  • Research interviews are conducted when you look for people to interview who are in a position to know something specific about your topic such as those who have participated in a particular meeting or event, those who have prepared or received a specific report, or those who have had particular consultations and have dealt with some of the actors in your story
  • These people all have their own story to tell and it is your job to get them to tell it
  • In research interviews, details matter and this dialogue becomes a wonderful resource for gaining new contacts or access to new documents

ii. Large Scale Survey Research

  • One kind of interview involves using questionnaire and survey-based research and the goal here is to determine what a large group of people think (e.g. all the people living in Toronto)
  • Since you can’t interview everyone in the city, a small group is chosen to represent the views of a larger group
  • This small group must be truly representative of the larger one and this can be determined via statistical techniques
  • In survey research interviews, it is essential that all questions (whether they are structured, pre-structured or open-ended) are pre-tested many times to ensure the interviewees really understand the researcher’s intentions
  • In survey research, it is likely the researcher will know in advance what the answers will be thanks to others’ surveys, pretests or the study’s hypothesis
  • Answers need to be predicted in advance so that answers can be easily coded, counted and used in statistics later on
  • Survey-based research requires a great deal of skill in areas like statistical expertise to carry out properly and is very time-consuming and expensive

iii. Exploratory Studies

  • An exploratory study looks like a watered down version of a survey and in some cases can be used as the first step in developing a survey
  • For example, this kind of interview doesn’t require paying very close attention to the selection of interviewees since you are not claiming those interviewed faithfully represent a larger group
  • On their own, exploratory studies can provide a better picture or a more nuanced account of something that is happening or what some group believes
  • The difference between an large-scale survey and an exploratory study is that the latter does not have the scientific constraints necessary for survey research and will thus not produce statistically relevant results

iv. Ethnographic Interviews

  • Unlike survey research, an ethnographic interview is rich in detail but each interview stands on its own
  • The larger picture is therefore determined by gathering bits and pieces of info together and analyzing patterns
  • Ethnographic interviews allow a researcher to delve into the subtleties of what someone has to say, to gather detailed descriptions of experiences, to explore how concepts are understood and to examine how personal and political relations are played out

3. Interview Preparation

A. Choosing who to interview

  • Don’t try and choose interviewees who are in positions of power or who have a very high status since they are unlikely to have key details of events like lower-level meetings or how the information from such meetings was used in later events
  • The BEST interviewees are often mid-level officials who know the nuts and bolts of how things happen or those on the front-line of on-going relationships with the public, government officials, regulators, clients or constituent interest groups
  • Interviews with public-information people (e.g. someone in change of an organization’s communications) is also useful since these individuals know a lot about the situation at hand and can be conduits to further documents or interviews with others in the organization
  • SNOWBALLING refers to the practice of finding people to interview by asking those you interview for suggestions

B. Ethics

  • In this chapters, ethics is a term used exclusively in connection with interviews and deals with establishing and maintaining relationships of trust between the interviewer and interviewees
  • NO DECEPTION should be involved and NO INCENTIVES should be offered in the interview process
  • Before interviewing anyone, you require informed consent where an interviewee is asked to signal that they have been informed and that they consent to being interviewed
  • Ethics approval is standard in academic research which means that before starting your interviews, you will have to fill in a questionnaire about the purpose of the interviews, the information sought, the rules that apply, the consent required and the eventual uses of the material
  • This questionnaire is part of an ethics submission that must be approved by a committee before the interviews begin and this often means you may be asked to make amendments before being granted approval
  • It is important to understand that ethics are less about signing forms than it is about establishing a relationship of TRUST between you and the people you interview
  • Any relationship of trust therefore requires taking into account two things: power and vulnerability
  • You will need to factor in the level of vulnerability of the individual (or organization) in calculating whether the ethics challenge has been met.

Question:

Does this mean that those in powerful positions are likely to be the least vulnerable during an interview?

Answer:

Sometimes but not always.  For example, suppose you wanted to interview both a bank president and teller about money laundering. In this case, the bank teller has a low level of social power and this means he or she will need permission in order to participate in your research as well as have a very explicit letter of consent. The questions you will ask need to be specified in advance and shared with the employer. Your duty is to make sure the teller does not stray from the agreed interview material.

In contrast, a bank president has a lot of power and knows how to handle the interview process. He or she will not require permission to do an interview and will decide for themselves what they can or cannot say. While you may provide them with an outline of the areas of discussion, you do not need to give them specific questions and do not have to worry about whether the interview strays from the original objectives.

HOWEVER, there are situations when those who have power are actually more vulnerable than those who have little power. For instance, a politician may have high status but be particularly vulnerable, especially if facing an election.



C. Stance

  • Think of any interview as being a bit of a power struggle
  • While on the surface, it may appear that the person interviewed has all the power (after all, they are providing the answers to your questions), in reality, as the interviewer you have far more power than you know
  • This is because YOU choose and ask the questions and then probe for answers, you have other information gathered beforehand, and you get to speak with many people
  • You are also the one who will put the material together in the final analysis and make the arguments and recommendations at the end of your research
  • That said however, interviewees can take back power and reverse this relationship to gain the upper hand
  • For example, they can refuse to answer questions, serve up marginally or non-relevant opinions, or take the interview as an opportunity to pontificate
  • Unfortunately, it is often difficult to regain control over an interview if this happens and normally, the only method for doing so may be to interrupt the interviewee and attempt to restate the original purpose for your dialogue
  • Another thing you can try is to use a “quiet moment” during the interview to write down notes and to then “restart” the conversation in your favor once again

D. Preparing questions versus using prompt words

  • For research interviews, it is often a mistake to have a detailed list of questions and to ask them exactly as written
  • Often, written questions can disrupt the flow of a conversation and may even distract you from what the interviewee is really saying
  • For example, instead of asking a follow-up question to what your interviewee has just said, you may “stick to script” and read your next pre-packaged question which is less relevant

Question:

If I can’t use specific questions, how am I going to keep control of the interview?

Answer:

Without written questions, you will need another way to structure the discussion to get the information you want. The best approach in this case is for you to have at hand a list of single words or phrases (prompting words). Generally, you only require a maximum of eight (8) prompting words in total. Prompting words indicate the topic you wish to cover but allows you the flexibility to think on the spot. This means you have to listen very carefully to your interviewee and decide whether their answer requires a follow-up questions or whether you need to introduce a new topic for discussion. With follow-up questions, you will get details, background, context, contacts, a sense of relationship between actors, history and telling anecdotes about your issue that may be missed by sticking to a guided script.

For example, say you want details about a specific meeting. Perhaps you only have a word or two in your notes to highlight the topic, but during the interview you probe with follow-up questions such as “who was there?” or “what issues were under debate?” Maybe after learning about who was present at the meeting you ask questions about the relationship between one actor and another but you can only do so after you have learned something from the answers of your interviewee.

Clearly, each question you ask is not one question but a nest of questions all focused on the same topic, and since your discussion based on just one prompting word will take time, it is quite unlikely that you will get to them all. If this happens don’t worry, as it is better to get good and useable answers from a few questions than poor answers from many ones. In addition, towards the end of an interview, you can always circle and use the words you think are crucial to make sure you are covered! 



E. Note-taking and Tape Recording

  • While you may be tempted to rely entirely on a recording device during your interview, this is not always a good idea
  • You can use your phone as a recording device but you should always rely on your written notes
  • For instance, while your notes may be incomplete, a transcription is not much better as it represents a “flattened” version of your original interview
  • In addition, transcripts are very expensive to reproduce and tedious to write-up
  • You will likely spend five to seven hours writing and editing (which needs to be done for quotes) your transcript and then find that most of the information has no value
  • The transcript may contain words, but it does not include any information you gathered based on non-verbal cues such as the expression interviewee’s face and/or inflections in their voice
  • Another problem is that the safety of a taping device often stops us from really listening to the interviewee which means you can’t ask any follow-up questions or probe further on new information
  • If you do use a recording device that fails during an interview, don’t spend too much time trying to fix it; instead, move on and take notes

F. On and off the record

  • Research interviews differ from journalism interviews since the interviewee has different expectations
  • Specifically, this person expects that you genuinely want the information for the purposes you set out in your interview and that your goal is simply understanding events
  • This means that if you learn something off the record, you can use it to further your general understanding but you can never use it in your write-up
  • Sometimes, people you give you “off the record” information are doing so to control content and this ultimately hurts your research and analysis if you know something but can’t use it

 E. Things that may go wrong during an interview

i. You have chosen the wrong person to interview or are bored

  • During an interview, it may quickly become obvious that you have chosen the wrong person to interview
  • If this happens, keep the interview very short (10-15 minutes at most) and see whether that person may be able to help you determine who else should be interviewed
  • If the interview is simply boring and provides little information, be courteous and stay for about 30 minutes before thanking the interviewee for their time
  • If need be, discretely pinch yourself to stay alert

ii. The set-up is too informal

  • Interviews require a modicum of formality even if they are conversational
  • This means that you should try and put a piece of furniture (e.g. desk or table) between you and the interviewee
  • One way of accomplishing this is to ask the interviewee for a place you can write, which is likely to move you to a location with a table such as a board or meeting room
  • Speaking of formal, it is also better to dress up then down during an interview as a way of showing respect

iii. The interviewee doesn’t get why you want to interview them

  • Sometimes an interviewee may think you know too much already or cannot understand why you are asking questions about a particular situation
  • If this happens, simply respond by stating that while you do have an understanding of events, you want to check and counterbalance your own view with the views of others

iv. The interviewee is hostile or suspicious of your motives

  • Given the fact you sent a letter in advance and the interviewee agreed to meet with you, you have to figure out where the anger and/or suspicion is coming from
  • Is it you? Maybe you are projecting something negative to the interviewee such as “knowing it all” or viewing them with suspicion
  • In these situations, try and ask the interviewee to clarify any misunderstandings and if this still doesn’t work, cut the interview short and be gracious

v. Over-pontification

  • Spinning off-course is the most common problem in interviewing and occurs when you lose control over the dialogue
  • To get things back on track, you need to listen as if every word matters but then quietly and politely interrupt the interviewee with a “probe” like question such as asking for background information or if other people saw events the same way
  • Once you do this, you can now immediately ask for other information and use your quiet time for writing as another space to insert your own questions and get things back on track

vi. The interview starts to feel like an argument

  • Don’t forget that it takes two to argue so make sure you are not the one doing the arguing
  • Keep your opinions to yourself and if asked for your argument, respond with a balance of non-committal and honesty
  • In other words, the less you say, or offer up as opinion and argument, the better

vii. The interviewee is guarded

  • Being guarded is not the same as being hostile or suspicious, and your interviewee has a right to be guarded which you should respect
  • Try and make them feel more comfortable by asking straightforward questions about mundane details such as “how long have you worked here?”
  • Respect privacy and confidentiality by reassuring the interviewee that no quotes will be used or that all quotes will be reviewed by the interviewee before they are used

viii. The interviewee is lying and you know it

  • If the interviewee is lying and you are aware of the fact than just ignore it
  • Remember that while you ultimately have the last word, you should never contradict an interviewee
  • You can probe further if you wish by stating things such as, “some people have told me….what do you think of this?”

ix. You are too nervous to concentrate

  • In your first interviews, you may be too nervous to concentrate so a good way to start is by interviewing the people who are quite peripheral to your study and practice on them
  • Save the most important interviews until you are almost done and are thus more well-versed and confident in your skills

x. You feel embarrassed

  • Don’t worry if you say something objectionable, your stomach growls loudly or if your blouse or fly button is undone – just carry on and listen intently as the incident will pass
  • The more your draw attention to your embarrassment, the more attention is taken from the interview

xi. You don’t know where to start

  • Again, start with a simple question such as asking how long a person has worked at their position or about the relationship between one department and another

xii. You don’t know when to stop

  • Just before your set interview time is up, quickly scan your list of prompting words and circle the ones that are important but have not yet been covered
  • Next, ask one or two more questions ONLY before the interview is done
  • While you can ask for a follow-up call, these rarely will provide you with any additional information
  • Also remember that you need to keep a bit of time to ask about other people to speak with or what documents you should look at
  • Don’t forget to thank the interviewee for their time spent before you leave!

xiii. Your information is wrong

  • If your information is incorrect than apologize first and ask the interviewee to correct your impressions
  • Following this, you may also want to ask them why this particular document might have got the story wrong as you were depending on it
  • Never state that someone else gave you wrong information as the interviewee is likely to ask you who your source is which is not something you can reveal

xiv. You don’t have time to complete your notes right away

  • This is a real problem so make sure you don’t do an interview without allotting sufficient time to complete your notes when it is over
  • This means you shouldn’t stack up interviews one after the other

xv. You start to feel used

  • Sometimes, you may feel used if the interviewee is looking for a “mouth-piece” or purposely misleading you to pressure you into making specific recommendations
  • This is okay because as long as you keep control over the interview, it doesn’t really matter what the intentions of the interviewee are

xvi. You can only get a phone or email interview

  • Both phone and email interviews are poor substitutes for in-person interviews
  • A phone interview is an especially poor choice because you don’t have the time to probe or ask follow-up questions without the call becoming too long
  • In addition, silence during a call may be misunderstood and you cannot see visual cues either
  • Email interviews are slightly better than phone interviews since you can ask for clarification about issues and also get direct quotes
  • Thus your order of preference should be: in person interview, email interview, phone interview

4. Research steps for interviewing

i. Review files

  • The first step in interviewing is to review your files and especially your chronology to look for gaps in your information
  • You should examine anything that seems contradictory or suggests conflict
  • Focus on the relationships amongst actors that have already been identified yet keep in mind there may be many you don’t yet know about

ii. Who is worth interviewing?

  • The second step involves looking at your actor files to see who might be worth interviewing
  • Think about which actors are likely to have something valuable or helpful to say
  • Also ask yourself which actors have information otherwise unlikely to be available
  • At this stage, you should again be thinking about who else might be involved in your situation that you do not yet know much about

iii. Make a list

  • Based on the first two steps, you should be able to come up with a long list of people who might be worth interviewing in light of the information you are still seeking

iv. Keep track of time

  • Estimate the time you have available for interviewing
  • Generally, each interview will take about half a day’s worth of work after all the preparatory work has been done
  • Factor in things such as transportation, the interview itself, note-taking and assessing the information when planning your interviews out
  • Ideally, while you would like to interview three+ people about each important event, in reality, you are likely to only conduct one or two interviews about each situation

v. Select your interviewees

  • Select the people you would like to interview from your long list
  • Given the small amount of time you have available, this will involve making hard choices, especially since each person interviewed may give you the names of even more people worth talking to
  • Don’t be afraid to “overbook” potential interviewees as many people will be unavailable or unwilling to be interviewed
  • This means you can choose up to 3x more people than you will actually interview in the long run

Question:

How do I determine who is a good interview candidate?

Answer:

Your criteria for selecting people to be interviewed should include those with DIRECT KNOWLEDGE or EXPERIENCE with the situation you want to know more about, the importance of this information to your research, and finally, how accessible they are.



vi. Assess ethics

  • Consider what ethical issues are likely to arise and this includes assessing whether your interviews could do damage to the interviewees if you identify them and/or use their words and ideas later on in your publication

vii. Contacting potential interviewees

  • The best way of contacting your interview candidate is by sending them a letter
  • A letter is far better than an email, phone call or (heaven forbid) a casual contact
  • Letters are best because they will be noticed, ensure a certain formality, and can be long enough to include all of the necessary information you need for informed consent
  • Letters can be quite specific about why you want to interview someone and what information you are seeking (e.g. you can include possible discussion topics)
  • With a letter, a person also knows you are seeking specific information about an issue and not just asking for their individual opinion
  • Think of a letter as a kind of implicit contract which outlines the conditions set for the interview including any ethical issues such as recording or using information
  • Finally, a letter should ask for a meeting at the interviewee’s convenience and should also indicate that you will make contact to establish a time and place
  • Follow up on your letter about two weeks after it has been sent

viii. The interview itself

  • Make sure you are on time for your interview and give yourself extra time to get there and find the place and/or person
  • If using a recording device, make sure it is prepped before you begin and take out all papers and a working(!) pen from your bag or suitcase
  • Don’t forget to send the interviewee a thank you note (email is fine) after you are done!

Question:

What does a “good” interview look like?

Answer:

A good interview usually lasts about an hour. Interviews that are longer may signal events are out of your control and those less than an hour may hint that you didn’t ask enough follow up questions or that the interview was unnecessary. Within 60 minutes, you will have about 5 minutes for an introduction and recap of your letter, 5 minutes of concluding remarks and about 10 minutes of note-taking. This means you have a maximum of 40 minutes for your questions, follow-up questions, probes, answers and discussion. Time is definitely tight!



ix. Note-taking during interview

  • Remember that the notes you take during an interview are jottings (keywords and phrases) and not word-for-word transcriptions or summaries
  • Jottings allow you to keep track of where your interview is going and what has already been said and also help you retrieve specific information down the road
  • Make sure to jot things down even if using a recording device as your notes will capture a kind and quality of information no recording device can match
  • This is especially true of non-verbal cues such as voice inflections, glances or intensity of response
  • Jotting is also a useful way to give yourself some breathing room and to ensure the interviewee that you are paying attention and not wasting their time

x. Note-taking after interview

  • In some ways, this is the most important step of all – you need to retreat to a quiet spot immediately after your interview and before you start forgetting details
  • This is where you can expand upon your jottings with further data and observations and crate your actual interview notes, even if you have a recording
  • Don’t worry about forgetting something as your recall abilities will allow you to take one page of jottings and create four or five pages of expanded notes

Question:

What if I don’t remember someone’s exact words at this point?

Answer:

It is unlikely that you will remember any direct quotations but rarely are they necessary for your research. Often, interviews are on a not-for-attribution basis which means that the name of the person or their exact words don’t really matter. You will have enough material to work with by simply capturing this information without having to use direct quotes. Also, don’t forget that given the status of many interviewees, their words are less important in the big picture than the views of their organization or group. In such cases all you need to do is identify the organization and formal position of the person who gave you the information.

Even if you were to depend entirely on your notes, you will have something akin to quotes. A quasi-quote can be constructed from your notes as long as not quotation marks are used and the person cannot be identified. Not being identified means that at least three people could have made the same observation being referred to.



xi. Direct Quotes

  • If you are intent on using a direct quote, you can and should reconstruct a quote from your notes and then consult your transcription to locate the exact words
  • Quotes taken from a transcript will need to be edited to make them intelligible and literate as people often speak in half-sentences and rarely finish their thoughts
  • That said, your written version of a quote is not likely to be exactly what was said and meant by the person being interviewed
  • You also need to be aware of the ethics of your situation as the interviewee does not see you as a “reporter” and may thus be less careful with their words
  • Once you have created a quote send it to the person and include the paragraphs immediately before and after the actual quote to given them context
  • You can send this via email and include a note inviting the person to make any changes or revisions which they have every right to do
  • Offer the person a couple of weeks to respond and indicate that you will move forward using the quote if you do not hear back from them

xii. Review your notes

  • Review your notes from the interviews keeping in mind you are looking for remaining gaps in information, further questions to be asked, who else needs to be interviewed and for what you might explore in future interviews

 xiii. Footnoting your interview material

  • Keep in mind that interview material is no more or less accurate than material taken from a written document as direct quotes in books or articles are often carefully selected and/or edited by the author
  • You can reference interviews by numbering them as you do them and in cases where you are attributing information, make sure to include the name, date, location and interview number
  • You need to keep your interview notes for at least two years after you have used them
  • Store your interview notes, transcriptions and recordings in a safe place and organize them by interview number
  • You can also classify them according to whether the information was attributed or anonymous and/or confidential

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­


Case Study

An Exploratory Study of the Legal Barriers Facing Ethno-Racial People with Mental Health Disabilities in Ontario

I conducted an exploratory study involving interviews with five members from each of the following participant groups: lawyers, psychiatrists, CCB adjudicators, mental health service providers and ethno-racial people with mental health disabilities. The purpose of my research was to analyze the types of discrimination faced by people with mental health disabilities from various ethno-racial communities in Ontario, through an analysis of the Ontario Consent and Capacity Board. The Ontario Consent and Capacity Board is an administrative tribunal, which has the authority to adjudicate legal issues under Ontario’s civil mental health legislation.

I had several questions: What are the procedural, systemic/structural and discretionary barriers faced by ethno-racial people with mental health disabilities who appear before the Ontario Consent and Capacity Board? How are issues of race, ethnicity, religion, immigrant/refugee status, language, sexual orientation, class, gender and disability dealt with?  What are the strategies or approaches that practitioners can use to understand and challenge the barriers that these clients face?

I faced serious challenges. I had to get ethics approval to conduct research in a psychiatric hospital, and this was not easily forthcoming. I had to recruit participants.  I had to understand the interviewing needs of people with mental health disabilities and I had to deal with the analytical and methodological challenges of transcribing and interpreting the data.  Let me explain how I dealt with each one.

In order to receive ethics approval for conducting these interviews, I had to go through two separate ethics approval processes. The process through the Research Ethics Board at my university was relatively straightforward. There were few amendments to be made, and I received approval within two months of my submission. Not surprisingly and properly, the ethics process through the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health’s Research Ethics Board was more complicated.  This was because the interviews were in a psychiatric hospital and they involved people with mental health disabilities, a vulnerable population. The Research Ethics Board asked me to revise the application three times before I received a final approval, which took approximately six months.  During the amendment process, I addressed the Research Ethics Board’s concerns by collaborating with a psychiatrist at the hospital, by explaining the informed consent procedure in great detail, by arranging for clinical backup to be available during the interviews and by including a description of my experience and exposure working with people with mental health disabilities.

I chose participants according to the their function within the Consent and Capacity Board and the broader mental health system. For instance, I recruited lawyers, psychiatrists and mental health service providers.  They had to have had experience working with clients from various ethno-racial communities. I used the technique of “snowballing” which involved asking initial participants that I interviewed to refer me to their colleagues working in the area.  I contacted these participants via email. I found it especially challenging to find Board adjudicators who would participate in the study. To resolve this, I asked the Consent and Capacity Board’s lawyer to contact them on my behalf. In light of the stringent ethics procedures at the psychiatric hospital, I contacted doctors and caseworkers to arrange interviews with people with mental health disabilities.

I looked for a place to conduct the interviews that was private. The majority of the interviews took place in the practitioner’s office or in the psychiatric hospital.  One interview was conducted on the phone and I had to follow up with an email interview to clarify certain points.

A recording device was used. The interviews were approximately forty-five minutes to one hour long. I relied on questions that were more or less the same when I spoke with each group of people, but I ensured that people had a chance to answer as they liked. I had approximately twenty questions that could be modified during the interview depending on the situation. I did a lot of preparatory work before arriving at my questions, talking to people who like myself had experience with working with or on behalf of people from various ethno-racial who have mental health disabilities. My questions provided a rough structure to the interviews, but they were more like conversations than formal interviews.

Before beginning each interview, I outlined the goals of my research, stressing confidentiality. I reviewed the consent form and invited participants to ask questions. I used a written consent form.  For the participants with mental health disabilities, I often took extra caution, empathy and time to explain the informed consent process and the confidential nature of the interviews. During the interviews, I had to be extra flexible to accommodate the needs of these participants, often taking breaks and modifying questions if necessary. In one case, the participant was experiencing the effects of medication and the interview had to be conducted in three separate parts.

The analysis of the interviews was divided into three steps. First, I wrote down a preliminary interpretation.  I used my interview notes and ideas that came to me during and after the interviews. Then I transcribed each interview in order to fully immerse myself into the words to ensure that connections between the interviews could be drawn.  Finally, I drew upon theory to analyze the information, using Glaser and Strauss’ constant comparative method within grounded theory (see useful readings at the end of this chapter) and the elements of the social model of disability, intersectionality and critical race theory that I had previously read about.

Glaser and Strauss’ constant comparative method involved comparing and contrasting ideas within one interview to another. The result of this comparison was written notes in the margin of each interview.  Doing the comparison enabled me to recognize themes.  Although expected themes such as “procedural barriers,” “systemic/structural barriers,” and “discretionary barriers,” were in evidence, I was able to identify other less obvious themes. The themes, taken together with the actual comments from the interviews, were then connected with the theoretical framework I just mentioned. My analysis was an evolutionary process. I consistently revisited my interviews to modify and refine what I was concluding.

Ruby Dhand


After reading this chapter, you should be able to:

  1. Understand the difference between a research interview versus survey, exploratory and ethnographic interviews
  2. Recognize that any interview is essentially a power struggle between the interviewer and interviewee and that your main goal is to keep control over the process
  3. Prepare for interviews by selecting the right people and ensuring you have met the ethics standards (including informed consent) in your field or discipline
  4. Identify the many things that can go wrong during an interview and the different strategies that can be used to keep things on track
  5. Learn how to create the right “questions” and prompt words for an interview and how to take effective notes which can be used later on in your research
  6. Follow a step-by-step process that will ensure you conduct a “good” interview that is both useful and credible when “filling in the gaps” of your research.

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